To state the obvious, keyboards are one of the most important tools for transcriptionists. You’re on it all day and having a low quality or non-ergonomic keyboard can slow you down and even cause injury. When you start out, a basic, non-ergonomic keyboard will do, but eventually you will want to upgrade.
The best keyboards for transcription jobs allow your hands to lie in a natural position. This not only increases efficiency, but also reduces the likelihood of repetitive stress injuries. Carpal tunnel, tendonitis, and other conditions can reduce your productivity and even necessitate taking time off work. If you’re a freelance transcriptionist, you probably don’t have the luxury of paid time off.
Here we take a look at several quality keyboards. This list is by no means all-inclusive. What’s your dream keyboard? Let us know in the comments section, below.
Microsoft 3000 and 4000 Keyboards
Microsoft offers many models of ergonomic keyboards and their primary benefit is price. You can purchase a Comfort Curve Keyboard 3000 starting at $24.95 and enjoy a more natural wrist position without spending a fortune. It makes a great entry-level model for your first transcription jobs.
For a more substantial upgrade, consider spending $25.00 more on the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. The Comfort Curve is described as a “curve” model meaning it’s more comfortable, but technically doesn’t qualify as ergonomic. It doesn’t keep your hands and wrists in ideal alignment. The Natural Ergonomic is truly ergonomic—like the name suggests. If the rest of your workspace is adjusted properly, the shape of the keyboard will improve your hand, wrist, and shoulder position. It also offers a wrist rest and programmable keys to boost productivity. These are all features that the Comfort Curve does not have.
Note that a common issue with ergonomic keyboards is their inability to fit on standard keyboard trays. If you have an older desk set-up where the tray is made for a traditional keyboard, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to fit a Natural Ergonomic model on it. You’ll most likely need to replace the tray along with the keyboard. If you are attached to the idea of an ergonomic keyboard, you may need to consider this extra expense.
Kinesis Freestyle 2
Kinesis is a leader in ergonomic products, which is why we feature two of their models here. The Freestyle 2 is the more affordable of the two models. What makes this keyboard unique is that it’s completely adjustable. It’s essentially a keyboard cut in half so you can slant it, raise it, and place the two halves the perfect distance from one another to accommodate your unique anatomy. You can get the VIP3 accessory to raise the center higher than the rest of the keyboard if that’s the angle you prefer. The optional palm supports assist with your wrist alignment.
The Freestyle 2 isn’t as large as some of the other keyboards we mention, so you shouldn’t have an issue fitting it on most keyboard trays. BUT it might not fit if you supplement it with accessories, so keep that in mind if you consider one.
You can find the Freestyle for $79 refurbished or starting at $109 new. If you buy accessories like the palm support, VIP3, or separate number pad, the price will go up. However, this shows the truly adjustable nature of this option as you can literally design your dream keyboard by moving parts to where you need them. Start with just the keyboard now and add accessories later.
Kinesis Advantage Contoured Keyboard
This is another great model from Kinesis. It’s also quite a bit more expensive, but if you transcribe a lot and you see yourself performing this work for the foreseeable future, paying up to $349 for one of these might be well worth it.
The Kinesis Advantage is the latest in advanced models. It adopts a sloped design that feels custom-created for your hands. Your wrists rest in perfect alignment with the home row, which are highlighted with blue keys to help you find it swiftly. It also keeps your arms at perfect shoulder width to minimize upper back pain and reduce the chance of repetitive stress injuries.
Another advantage of this model is the unique placement of the Enter, Space, Backspace, and Delete keys. Except for the bar, these frequently used keys require the work of weaker fingers, which also leaves you vulnerable to pain and injury. The Advantage moves these to a thumb pad which offers your smaller digits relief.
Learning to use the thumb pad will take time, which reduces speed at first. If you are already accustomed to typing by touch, this requires a new technique. However, most people find they adapt to this quicker than expected.
The Advantage is also wider from top to bottom, which introduces the keyboard tray problem once again. However, if you are willing to adjust your technique and it fits with your workstation, investing in this keyboard can take your keyboarding game to a whole new level.
We also wanted to include a keyboard with an alternative layout. BeeRaider is the innovator on this list, with their Radial Keyboard having a completely different layout from our other picks.
The idea starts with the shortcomings of the standard QWERTY keyboard. The well-known layout was originally developed due to the mechanical limitations of early typewriters. If a typist flew through the keys too quickly, the hammers would knock against each other and jam. The solution was to develop a layout that purposely slowed down typing speed. Jamming decreased, but the QWERTY design prevailed even into the computer age—though we no longer have to worry about key hammers.
Now that there’s no longer a need to prevent jamming, BeeRaider thought it was time to emphasize typing speed and introduced its Radial layout. It includes a round configuration of keys in the middle with two “wings” sticking out with larger keys. Larger keys are used by less dexterous fingers and smaller ones by the most coordinated ones. The space key is right in the center where it can be struck with either pointer finger.
It is offered in both a QWERTY and “Optimized” design. While the first contains the layout you are likely most familiar with, the latter changes this layout entirely in what is again, claimed to be a more efficient and easily-remembered format. The website hopes to maximize successful adoption by offering training to new users of its product.
Prices are fairly reasonable for this state-of-the-art innovation: You can purchase the QWERTY model for $105 and the Optimized one for $113. The biggest issue is that the keyboard and the training program is designed for people with no typing experience. If you are a seasoned touch typist, you will essentially be re-learning how to type even if you choose the traditional QWERTY layout. If you decide to go this route, you will need to factor in the training time that this product will require.
There are many claims regarding the best keyboards for transcription jobs, but in reality, the right choice is the keyboard that works best for YOU. Read other website reviews, try out models at your local tech or office stores, and only purchase online if returns are allowed. You may have to try a few before you find your favorite. Don’t close your mind to completely new ideas either, like the BeeRaider. You never know what will be the best match for your skills.